How can I get a Song out of my Head?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, which is also called an earworm, you know how truly annoying it can be. A study conducted by James K. Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati worked with over 1000 participants to break down why songs get stuck in our heads. He found that 99% of the study participants had occasionally experienced earworms. Of these people, 73.7% were most likely to have a song with lyrics stuck in their head. 18.6% got ads or jingle earworms, and 7.7% got earworms of instrumental music.

Concentrating on puzzles can help you get a song out of your head.
Concentrating on puzzles can help you get a song out of your head.

The question remains of how to get a song out of your head, and although there is no one proven method, there are numerous suggestions to try. In all seriousness, some people, especially the elderly who may have reduced mental function, may get a song so badly stuck for such a lengthy time period, that they benefit from medications like Prozac. For most suffering with an earworm, there are many other ways to get it out of your head without medication.

Listening to the full version of a song can be helpful when trying to get a particular part of it out of your head.
Listening to the full version of a song can be helpful when trying to get a particular part of it out of your head.

Though we might be deluged with ABBA, John Mellencamp, “It’s a Small World” or other simple but repetitive songs in our head, we can mentally turn these tunes down. Very consciously, turn the song down to a whisper volume in your head. If it gets louder again, keep turning it down.

Physical exercise may help some people get a song out of their heads.
Physical exercise may help some people get a song out of their heads.

Another trick to get a song out of your head is to go someplace where you can sing or listen to the entire song at full volume. We often only have a part of the song stuck in our head. Singing the entire song releases the brain from the repetition, and it works better than simply listening. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good singer or a truly lousy one. If you don’t have lyrics, you can get the lyrics to just about any song from many sources on the Internet.

Elderly individuals may be more likely to get a song stuck in their head.
Elderly individuals may be more likely to get a song stuck in their head.

If you really don’t want to sing, you might try either physical or mental exercise to get a song out of your head. Try a jog around the block, push-ups or pull-ups, or a few minutes of dancing to your internal song. Alternately, a mental puzzle might distract you. Play a challenging game of sudoku, do a crossword puzzle, try to solve a Rubik’s cube, or try solving a logic puzzle.

Many advocate having “antidote” songs to get a song out of your head. If you seem plagued with a particularly annoying song, choose another simple song with repetitive lyrics or instrumental simplicity to think of instead. The one downside to the antidote song is it may become your next earworm. Some suggest having an antidote to the antidote in order to keep another song from getting stuck.

If you have songs get stuck in your head often, consider some different music choices. First, keep the radio off. Repetitive jingles or play lists can become your next earworms. Second, choose to listen to complexly structured music. If you listen to a band like Rush, or a jazz band like Pat Metheny, you’ll have a hard time keeping up with the time signatures, since they change quickly. Modern composers like Phillip Glass, Bela Bartok or others may help to keep earworms from getting stuck.

Alternately, listen to music that is not Western. For example, gamelan music from Indonesia is so different from Western music that it can often confuse the brain and keep it from sticking on a particular song. Also choose songs without lyrics, as these are least likely to become stuck. Avoid simple instrumentals like the Pachelbel Canon, or the theme songs to films like The Pink Panther or Mission Impossible. The 1812 Overture or The William Tell Overture should also be avoided.

If despite these tricks, you do not get a song out of your head, a degree of acceptance about the matter may help the song go away sooner. Try to ignore the song, like one might ignore background music at work or in an elevator. Sooner or later, your brain will become engaged in something else, which will dislodge the irritating earworm.

A small percentage of people get instrumental music stuck in their heads.
A small percentage of people get instrumental music stuck in their heads.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


When I get an earworm, it's usually a song 'veI become attached to due to some symbolic connective lyrics. If I'm hearing it in my head, (even when I'm sleeping) I feel the need to listen to the actual song, but I can listen to the same song, if it is my earworm at the time, over and over which usually doesn't bother me as much as it does the people around me. I'm generally enjoying it and usually singing along to the song.

I noticed one aspect of my earworms is once I have learned the entire song and lyrics from memory, the song fades away, but until I know every word I have to keep listening to it.


I think I may be the one who has the worst situation that all the songs in my list continuously and alternatively playing in my head. I watch a lot of music performances online and find new songs for my list. I have been suffering this earworm for about two weeks and it takes me an hour or two to get to sleep.


I've had the song, "Little Black Book" by Pink Floyd repeat over and over random times and random parts of the song. I'm afraid because I think this is what my future will be like and I'm so opposite: a mom of three teens, into yoga, meditation etc. I also believe I am to learn something, but I don't know what.

Can anyone tell me how to stop this earworm because it's been two weeks of 'Little Black Book' lyrics over and over and over and over and I cannot take the agitation anymore! I've tried singing 'Jesus Loves Me' and 'You Are My Sunshine' -- simple songs -- and nothing. I consciously have to tell myself stop. Please help.


Well, I'm glad I'm not alone. I've tried everything and nothing works short of a bottle of vodka or a brick to the head.

Chai Mai is my antidote to the constant chart music I have on my Ipod shuffle in the brain but that gets wiped by others after a time. Worst song ever though, was "She'll be coming round the mountain." Go figure.


Keep saying "By Mennen!" over in your head or even out loud. It helps me to rid annoying songs that are stuck on repeat in my head.


Currentl, and for the last two days, it's been "Night Moves" by Bob Seger. I've never liked it. It's so annoying and I cannot wipe it out!


"I don't think people truly understand how annoying this can be for some..."

I certainly do because I've been suffering with this problem - probably an odd form of OCD - for about 43 years!


If you have this problem with instrumentals, you can try to imagine the song slowing down, almost to a halt, and stretch it in to a sound instead of melody.


Sing "The Final Countdown" melody, the whole melody and allow it to resolve. Anything stuck in your head will be gone and countdown will be gone too, as long as you finish the melody and resolve the chord progression.


I don't think people truly understand how annoying this can be for some. I've had songs stuck in my head for so long that I can't sleep, can't focus, can't even finish a thought. I've begun to avoid all music entirely because of this problem. But I suppose it beats a perpetual headache.


Ugh, I've had "Toxicity" by System Of A Down in my head for two days now, and it only goes away when I'm doing something, but when I'm not it keeps on coming back! Ahhhhh!!! (Also the creepy thing is, I keep picturing S.O.A.D playing that song in my head!)

The 'turn down' thing only works for me for a while and then it gets so loud I can't concentrate. It's driving me insane. Anyone else having this type of problem? With the pictures and all?


I cannot get little boxes by malvina reynolds out of my head. It's like a virus 24/7. If she were alive, I'd be annoying her 24/7 with her song!


I've had the "If I die young" song in my head for three days! No matter what I do, it is still there, even if I try to get another song stuck in my head, this one still plays in the background with the new one I'm trying to stick in my head to cover it up.

It is driving me insane! I only got 30 minutes of sleep last night. By the time i fell asleep it was time to go to work! Help!


@anon8472: Me too!


Note from a psychotherapist: just think of what the song means to you. Interpret the lyrics. Even if it is something silly! Is there something in the lyrics that sort of relate to your life in a way? Does the song have a meaning for you? Maybe there is a reason why your unconscious has decided to put this song "on repeat."


well, the turning down theory helped a little, but I hate it when the songs I hate get stuck in my head, but the songs I love, I forget about it until I hear it on the radio, which never happens,since I'm a Coldplay, Phoenix and Jet fan.


this seems to work for me but tonight it's not working but i usually sing a song that i like that gets stuck to replace the one i hate and the one i like will go away faster so I'm hoping that maybe I can just take some xanax and go to bed.


I go to bed with a song in my head. Wake up with a song in my head. Go through my day with a song in my head. Sometimes I don't know what is coming out of my mouth because of the lyrics playing in my mind. Can't focus. Can't concentrate. Hate this!


I have Nelly's "Just A Dream in my head". I took sleeping medicine for about two or three nights but whenever I have an earworm I just can't sleep. I tried doing these things but it's still in my head!


I've tried everything listed here, but nothing is working. It's plaguing me and I have not slept in four days because of it and because of some history, I am not allowed to take any sleeping pills anymore.

What do I do now?


I'm having problems with the fact that my daughters love justin bieber, and although I find his music very annoying (no offense intended, he's not a bad kid, I just can't stand the music), the awful thing is that a lot of the music is catchy and does get stuck in my head!

My solution is that if they wish to listen to JB it must always be with earphones on (so I hear nothing) from now on!


I can't sing my song the whole way because it scares me! I'm trying an antidote! Actually I was joking around when I put this in my search, but I was happy to find some suggestions.


how can i enjoy a song without getting it stuck in my head? Do you have any other ideas?


This article was very helpful to me. About ran out of distractions to keep music out of my head.


canon in d is awesome. best piece of classical music ever. i've got cherlye Cole's new song in my head. "love worth fighting for." i got the first stanza in my head. nothing i try will get it out.

i got work tomorrow.


Thank you so much. I could hardly sleep at all last night thanks to this song in my head. Unfortunately I hear it several times a day at work thanks to someone's radio. Some of these ideas might actually work though.


What do you do if you have an instrumental game song stuck in your head?


that was very helpful! because I can remember nearly every song I've ever listened to, even when I only remember the title, I remember nearly the whole song o.o, but that's over now :D


The turning the volume down idea really helped me.

Thanks! I was about going nuts. I've had a song in my head the whole weekend.


Great. Now I have the Pink panther Music stuck in my head.

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